Time to open doors of secrecy around Mother and Baby Homes, says NI survivor

At 47, Eunan Duffy found out he was adopted. He says people are struggling to access information north and south of the border.
Time to open doors of secrecy around Mother and Baby Homes, says NI survivor

A pair of baby shoes with a massage hanging at the walls of the Mother and Baby home burial site in Tuam, Co. Galway.

A campaigner is calling for more cooperation between Stormont and the Dáil in relation to investigating the mother and baby homes, which operated both north and south of the border.

His call comes in the wake of the publication of the report of the Mother & Baby Home Commission, which detailed decades of mistreatment of women and children in facilities all over Ireland.

Eunan Duffy found out he was adopted in 2016 when he was 47 years old, after he had to obtain the full version of his birth certificate to marry his Polish fiancee.

"It was earth-shattering. It was so life-changing... and when I found out I was born in a mother and baby home, I knew the outcome wouldn't be good."

He found out that his mother gave birth to him in the Marianvale home in Newry, Co Down in 1968.

He tracked her down in England six and half months later.

"She said she thinks she remembers signing some paperwork literally within minutes of having me. She had no idea what the paperwork was for."

Mr Duffy says his mother cannot remember much else about her time in Marianvale. All she can remember is the birth and Mr Duffy being placed on her chest afterwards.

Since Mr Duffy realised he was adopted, he has been campaigning for Stormont to launch an inquiry into these institutions.

Stormont commissioned research into the mother and baby homes in 2018, by way of an Inter Departmental Working Group on Mother and Baby Homes, Magdalene Laundries and Historical Clerical Child Abuse.

This research is expected to be published sometime in the coming week, but its timeline has been extended a number of times, much to the dismay of survivors and adoptees.

Mr Duffy says this research was conducted by academics from Queen's University Belfast (QUB) and Ulster University and mainly concerned records, and had no real input from survivors.

"I wanted a victim survivor representative to be part of this research, who would have access to the same files and records as the research group. They could have signed an Official Secrets Act or a non-disclosure agreement. That would have given us confidence in the process."

He adds that the research does not cover all institutions, similar to how the Commission worked in the south.

Mr Duffy says a statutory inquiry needs to be launched, and people should face criminal charges.

He says survivors and adoptees should also be granted access to their own records, without redaction or summaries.

Mr Duffy also believes the Good Friday Agreement means north and south should be cooperating in relation to any investigations into the mother and baby homes.

"The issue of forced adoptions must be addressed.... you can imagine the duress these women were under. The Commission's report spoke about 'foreign adoptions', and how much of that was in reference to the North?"

He adds that people born in the North but adopted by families in the south have serious issues accessing their records.

Eunan Duffy, who was born in Marianvale mother and baby home in Newry, Co Down.

Eunan Duffy, who was born in Marianvale mother and baby home in Newry, Co Down.

People who live in the Republic have been redirected by Tusla to health trusts in the North who have, in turn, redirected them to Tusla again.

"They are in a massive limbo," he said.

Mr Duffy says Stormont should avoid the mistakes made in the south, after the commission's report was heavily criticised by survivors because of the way it treated their testimony.

Marianvale was run by the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd.

In a statement, they said: “We have cooperated fully with a research team from QUB. We will continue to work with the relevant authorities in every respect on this vitally important societal issue as we await publication of the research team report.

"We reject any suggestion of illegality by our sisters in regard to any aspect of the much-needed service we provided at Marianvale."

They claimed Marianvale was subject to the inspection of the Department of Health and Social Security and its predecessors. 

"Throughout its operation, [Mairanvale] cooperated fully with regional Social Service Boards who were the authorities with oversight of adoptions.

"Some women (17%) did not proceed with adoption, as had been planned before admittance to Marianvale, and with the support of families and the staff at Marianvale, took their babies home.

"We will assist any individual who was linked to any of our services as best we can. We do also advise on other agencies to contact in the pursuit of information, depending on the individual request."

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland, who were in charge of the research, said: "Research into historical Mother and Baby Homes/Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland, undertaken jointly by Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University, is now complete.

"A paper will be brought to the Executive shortly for its consideration. Subject to Executive approval, it is intended to publish the research report before the end of January 2021."

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